The new Munich Security Conference (February 17-19, 2017) took stock of the trends related to regional and international security. The unexpectedly positive position of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini ran counter to the critical and rather hostile position of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov.
The European official underlined the importance of multilateral relations that work in the case of the EU, while Lavrov complained about the fact that the West does not want to give up its unipolar agenda. Both of the sides had yet common positions on the necessity of respecting international law, even if Russia violated a series of treaties and principles of international law with respect to Ukraine during the last three years.
As a tradition already, Mogherini reiterated the EU’s interest in consolidating the states by investing in good governance, rule of law and human rights. Namely this investment serves as a precondition for more robust security, including for the Europeans.
Lavrov’s counter-offer consisted in the establishment of post-Western order, where the cultural and civilizational identity of the states is essential. This proposal goes against the approach of the EU, which sees the standards needed for the good functioning of states and prevention of insecurities in the rule of law or the human rights.
Europe as a reliable and indispensable power
Federica Mogherini noted that in unpredictable times, the European Union will remain a stable, reliable, predictable power for many and for collective security. This way, she contradicted the pessimistic ideas about the imbalance inside the EU and insisted that the Union and the European people must have greater confidence in their own forces.
Surely, the perspective depicted by the European official is needed for improving the tempers in the EU. At the same time, this positive rhetoric characterizes the way in which the EU is actually regarded outside. Anyway, the reality of 2015-2016 involuntarily, but justifiably decreases the level of exaggerated optimism about the internal (cohesion, solidarity) and external (unanimity) capacities of the EU.
In another development, the European official underlined the importance attached by the EU to multi-pluralism (cooperation with NATO, UN, etc.), free trade and sustainable development and human rights, including the alleviation of the effects of climate change. Also, the European security wasn’t omitted by Mogherini in her speech. She even underlined the EU’s role of global security provider.
Reminding about the efforts made by the EU to create a European defense fund, Mogherini confirmed the synergies inside the EU towards a more militarily self-sufficient and autonomous Union. U.S. President Donald Trump’s hesitations about NATO and the multiplication and globalization of security crises in the neighborhood of the EU and not only seem to accelerate the European ambitions as regards defense and security.
However, Mogherini’s message clearly shows that the Europeans’ priority migrates from economy to security. But this thing should not be confounded with any intention of the EU to replace NATO, which is a crucial liaison in the transatlantic dialogue. The EU’s objective is to fill the existing gaps and to adjust the EU policies to the new realities in terms of security.
Russia criticizes the West
The position stated by Sergey Lavrov, who is one of the Russian foreign affairs ministers with the longest term in office, was full of reproaches to the West. All the current problems, related to the erosion of security, were attributed to the West, which, according to Lavrov, refused to accept a multipolar world.
It is not for the first time that Russia accuses NATO, which is described as a reminiscence of the Cold War, and the enlargement of the Alliance for the fact that this led to the destabilization of the situation in Europe. Contrary to these accusations, not NATO, but Russia is the one that provoked stirred up conflicts in Europe, like the war in Georgia in 2008, annexation of Crimea and fueling of militarized separatism in Eastern Ukraine starting with 2014, not speaking about the perpetuation of the frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet area.
Lavrov’s criticism also referred to the West’s attempts to democratize the Middle East and Northern Africa, which failed, according to the minister.
He also rejected the accusations that Russia aims to create new centers of influence in the world or to detonate the global liberal system. The Russian official shifted all the responsibility onto the West, which, according to him, invented the political and economic globalization in order to establish the supremacy of an elitist group of countries onto the others.
A natural question appears thus – if Russia does not really aim to destroy the Western projects, why does it wage information wars in favor of the anti-European populists who promise to weaken or even destroy the European projects? There is also evidence that financial assistance is even provided to particular Euro-skeptical movements (Popular Front of France) through Russian banks.
In particular, during the last four years the European decision makers received repeated confirmations that Russia’s statements are diametrically opposed to its actions. That’s why the accusations made by Lavrov in Munich were dedicated less to the Europeans and more to the Russian public and designed to fuel the Russian propaganda.
European model is a blend of hard and soft powers?
Mogherini’s speech also revealed a very clear opposition to the idea of using a purely and exclusively military approach to deal with security challenges. The European way to work on global security, combining hard and soft power, but in an intelligent way, was given as an example.
According to her, the European model and the hard-soft manifestation of the European power actually consists in the investment in powerful societies, resilience of states, human rights, democracy, good governance, jobs, education. These types of investment are regarded by Mogherini as investment in the European security. This way she raised again the objectives of the new EU Global Strategy. According to this document that was published in the summer of 2016, the EU lays emphasis on the consolidation of European democracies and protection of international law. The strategy also focuses on the prevention of insecurity, including by strengthening the neighborhood, in particular in the Eastern Partnership counties (IPN, July 2016).
Finally, Federica Mogherini invoked as provocation the behavior of the players who see constraints in rules (based on international law) instead of treating them as collective guarantees. This way she referred both to the Russian unilateralism that produces fissures in the architecture of the European security or in the Middle East (Syria) and to the recent actions of the Trump administration in terms of international humanitarian law (bans on refugees, etc.).
Russia suggests a post-Western world and post-false
The solution proposed by Sergey Lavrov is creating a post-Western world for ensuring the functioning of international order (Mid.ru, February 2017). This envisions a democratic and equitable order. Each country, in a sovereign way and on the basis of international law, will be able to establish a balance between the own national interests and partners’ interests by respecting the culture-historical and civilizational identity.
Lavrov’s proposal runs yet counter to the Western values such as human rights and the rule of law, which Russia started to hunt and limit to a maximum during the last decade. In fact, the post-Western order proposed by Lavrov exactly matches the principles of Eurasian ideology. This opposes the interference and extension of the European values to Russia and the whole post-Soviet area that is treated like Russia’s ‘backyard’.
The political regime of Moscow continuously looks for sustainable methods for ensuring its continuity. This can be ensured only by suppressing the democratic manifestations such as human rights, freedom of the media, etc. The political competition, correct electoral process or human rights are incompatible with any authoritarian political system similar to Russia’s.
Furthermore, Lavrov accused the EU of spreading Russophobia and of imposing this in the 28 member states based on the principle of solidarity. This runs counter to the reality because the opinions formed about the Russian authorities derive strictly from Russia’s behavior. Unlike the Russian press, most of which is used in the information war against the West, the mass media in Europe is more objective and provides facts. That’s why namely Russia can be accused of spreading feelings of hatred towards the EU among the Russians and even among the European citizens.
To annul any complicity in the information wars of Russia, Lavrov invites the international partners to enter a ‘post-false’ stage. We will yet see if the Russian authorities, on this occasion, stop to finance Russia Today or Sputnik, which daily disseminate false and/or erroneous news in the global information area.
Instead of conclusion…
The existential crises experienced by the EU (refugee crisis, emergence of anti-European populists, Russian information war, etc.) tests the durability of the European project. The investment in defense and society should be made as swiftly as possible.
Meanwhile, the EU should not forget about the insecurities in its neighborhood to the resolving of which it should contribute better earlier than too late.
Also, Sergey Lavrov’s proposal about the post-Western order should be treated seriously as it directly refers to the existence of the Western system in its current form. Lavrov’s message should be interpreted as an alarm signal for open societies, of Western type, which are seen as incompatible with the Eurasian cultural and civilizational identity of Russia.
The opposing views of the EU and Russia reveal numerous problems that countries like Moldova will have to deal with. At any authentic rapprochement with the European area, countries like Moldova are to anticipate even more repressions than now on the part of Russia, which is determined to push the international community towards a post-Western world.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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